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What Does a Racehorse Trainer Do? All the Facts You Need.

Last updated: May 2, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

After the excitement of purchasing our first racehorse subsided, we had to decide who would be the trainer. We bought him before we chose his trainer. So I researched the role of racehorse trainers.

A successful racehorse trainer must win races and be able to run a business while supervising staff, planning strategy, and maintaining relationships with owners, jockeys, and racetrack officials.

In deciding on a racehorse trainer, gathering as much information as possible and knowing about trainers, in general, is essential. You are turning over responsibility for your investment to this person.

Picture of a thoroughbred stallion.

What is a racehorse trainer?

Based on his background and experience, a racehorse trainer is an expert in racehorse care and maintenance. That’s the definition, in a nutshell, but there is much more to his job.

What steps are required to become a trainer? Do successful racehorse trainers possess certain traits? The first step in our journey to hire a racehorse trainer was to determine exactly what duties fell under his job title and what we could expect from him if he was hired.

What a racehorse trainer does.

Racehorse trainers ensure their horses are fit to race, teach them racing skills, manage staff, select races, and communicate with horse owners. A good horse trainer has to be not only good with horses but also good with people.

He will decide the horse’s training regimen and which drugs to administer. And ultimately, they are primarily responsible for their animal’s care, condition, and health.

Before turning over your horse to a trainer, let’s look at the most common path a person follows to become a trainer.

Racehorse trainers have many obligations other than getting a horse ready to run. Some of these responsibilities are listed below:

1. Ensure horses are fit to race

He is under enormous pressure to win races. However, he must only run horses that are physically fit to race. New York and most other states that host horseracing have animal cruelty statutes that hold trainers liable for racing horses deemed unfit for racing.

“Working or racing a horse that is unfit for labor and causing it to break down is cruel under the New York anti-cruelty statute, Agriculture and Markets Law § 353.”

2. Position the horse to be successful

Positioning a horse to be successful includes not only ensuring the horse is fit but also choosing the right race, pairing the right jockey with his horse, and making sure the horse is fitted with the proper racing gear.

3. Trainers have a fiduciary duty to each horse owner

He will have horses for numerous horse owners. Each owner has a separate fiduciary duty to act in good faith and for the benefit of the owners.

If he believes he has a conflict of interest in a race, he must notify the owners. Often a trainer is asked to purchase a horse for an owner. If a trainer is interested in a horse being sold or purchased, he must notify all the owners.

  • Keep owners informed about their horse’s health. A trainer is obligated to notify the owner of any illnesses or injuries the owner’s horse may have suffered.
  • Keep an accurate accounting. A trainer must provide reliable and prompt accounting to the owners.
  • Keep up to date on racing regulations. A trainer has a duty to know the race rules for any track he has a horse running.
  • Know the medications being used on horses under his care. A trainer has a duty to only use medication for a horse that is approved by the racing commission and state laws.
  • Be honest: A trainer must be honest with the owners who have entrusted their horse to his care.

4. Manage staff

A trainer is responsible for the people under him. He needs to properly vet his employees and supervise them to ensure the horses under his care are treated appropriately.

Picture of horse racing starting gates.
Gate training walk-thru

5. Racehorse trainers teach racehorses.

Once the horse has been turned over to a trainer, school starts. Horses are like kids; they will learn at different paces and be better at some subjects than others. The trainer’s job is to know the horse in their care and use the best teaching method to achieve success.

All horses must be taught the basics. The days of the wild west bronc show won’t be happening with these racehorses. The following fundamentals are taught to all racehorses:

Introduction to riding gear

Racehorse yearlings are handled throughout their life. Most racehorses are led by a lead rope attached to a halter at a young age. Now is the time for them to be introduced to more formal training.

The first step is to introduce the horses to their riding gear. The process occurs over an extended period. He may have a horse blanket placed on him and taken off. Then a bit and saddle were introduced.

It’s a slow process, but over time proves to be productive and safe for the horse and handler. These steps commonly occur while the horse is still a yearling.

Learn to be ridden

Once they’re broke to riding gear, riding is the next step. Breaking to ride is another slow process. The first step is to saddle and tack the horse. Next, a person lays across the horse’s back in the stall.

Depending on the horse’s reaction, this step is repeated until the horse is comfortable. Once everyone is satisfied, the horse is ready; the rider mounts the horse in the stall, and they are led into the barn breezeway.

Eventually, the horse is mounted and ridden in a round pen, then a paddock. After a horse understands the riders’ cues, he starts training in a large pasture and is brought along to jogging and galloping. Eventually, he is taken to the training track and introduced to riding next to a pony horse.

Most importantly, horses are individuals and require different techniques and time to adjust. There is no one-size-fits-all to horse training.

Below is a YouTube video of our horse being gate-trained.

YouTube video

Gate training

Gate training is an integral part of racehorse training. The starting gates have a set of rear and front gates. Most horses are not used to such tight quarters, so they must have this training early in their careers.

They walk into the starting gates from the rear with the front gates open. They walk straight through a few times until they are comfortable.

Then, they learn to stand quietly alone and alongside other horses. Once they turn two, they start learning to break and gallop out of the gates. At this age, it is common for them to also start working on speed.

Switching leads

Leads, in horse terms, mean what front foot is out front when the horse is running. A horse running with a right lead will land her left rear foot first on the ground. Continuing to run in one lead for an extended period tires a horse.

Although they naturally switch leads when running, in racing, you want your horse to be running in a left lead in the turns and the right lead in the straightaways. A jockey will cue the horse when to change leads.


Conditioning is the exercise routine used to get a racehorse in shape. The trainer has to decide on speed, distance, and the number of days needed for each. A trainer has his preferred method to condition a horse, but he must be able to adjust his approach to the individual.

Every horse has a unique personality and has to be treated differently; some will benefit from daily training, and others will need more time off. A good trainer must recognize these differences and adjust the training schedules accordingly. As the race day gets closer, more adjustments are made to the prospective runners’ workouts.

How Many Hours Do Racehorse Trainers Work?

Racehorse trainers work long hours almost every day, although only a portion of their time is with a horse. They usually start their day at the barn or training facility at four in the morning and finish before noon.

Below is a YouTube video that covers the world’s best trainers.

YouTube video

But this is just the beginning of their workday; the remainder of the day is spent with staff, owners, veterinarians, or race track officials. To be a trainer, you must love the job because it is not uncommon for them to work over 60 hours a week.

How do Racehorse Trainers make money?

Training horses is not a business most people join to get rich. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics for 2019 showed the highest 10% of animal trainers earned more than $56,580 ($25.76 per hour). However, this included all animal trainers. Let’s look at some of the ways trainers earn their money.

Day rate

Day rates are designed to offset expenses associated with keeping a horse. These expenses include bedding for the stall, feed, use of stable equipment and tack, exercise rider, groom, and other employee salaries.

Day rates do not cover veterinarian costs, farrier expenses, medications, jockey fees, or other incidental expenses. Private trainers (who only train for a sole owner) may be compensated on a set salary. Day rates vary by track but typically range from $45 to $100 daily.

Purse percentage

Trainers and Jockeys typically receive 10% of the purse. (See for an article I wrote about the size of Jockeys.) The purse is usually divided amongst the first five finishers in a race. (See my article on purse money here). These funds are paid directly from the track officials.

Picture of a dark gray filly that could pass as black.
Morning exercise

How to become a racehorse trainer.

It takes time to become a racehorse trainer. To become a racehorse trainer, a person usually begins in an apprenticeship program, working his or her way up from the bottom. Apprenticeships take time and dedication. Let’s start by looking at the normal progression of jobs a person works on his way to becoming a racehorse trainer.

Hot walker

As the name implies, a hot walker walks horses. They take the horse from a jockey after a workout or a race and walk him. Walking the horse after a workout allows the horse’s body to cool down before he is returned to his stall.

Once the horse is cooled, the hotwalker assists the groom with washing the horse thoroughly before handing it over to the groom for further care. A hot walker is the starting point for becoming a trainer.

Picture of our horse Ashton, going to the gates for a stakes race.


The next step up from the hot walker is the groom. A groom provides daily care for the horses assigned to him. He is typically responsible for four horses. Upon arrival at the barn, the groom checks the morning schedule. Each horse has there individual training routine.

The groom relies on the program to prepare each horse. Some horses may be on a special diet, others may need specific tack, and others require a rubdown. The groom also begins the stall cleaning routine of washing buckets and mucking out stalls.

If a horse is working out this morning, the groom prepares him, wraps the legs if necessary, cleans his feet, brushes him down and saddles, and tacks the horse. After the morning workout, the groom will reverse the process and check for physical problems.

He typically rubs the horse’s legs, applies a salve or rubbing alcohol, and wraps his legs with polo wraps. The groom usually finishes his morning routine before noon. He returns to the barn later in the afternoon to check on his team and feed them. On the day of his horses’ race, he leads them to the paddock to be saddled.

training.two .year .olds edited 1

Exercise rider

Exercise rider has a physically demanding and dangerous job. They commonly ride six to eight horses a morning. They must know the horse and be able to apply what the trainer instructs during a training exercise.

Good exercise jockeys can keep a horse at the pace the trainer advises. Exercise riders learn their mounts tendencies, energy level, fitness levels, etc. Often the rider picks up on subtle lamenesses; this allows for issues to be addressed before they turn into serious problems.

The duties of the exercise rider require sound judgment and the ability to accurately communicate information concerning health, performance, and temperament to the trainer. The rider must also have high-level riding skills and the ability to interpret and relay information covering a variety of circumstances. If a groom is not too big, he can move to an exercise rider.


The foreman is directly under the assistant trainer, who is in charge of the stable’s daily operations. He delegates the trainer’s or assistant trainer’s instructions to all the other staff. Under the rules, a foreman at some tracks can act for the trainer on race days.

Foreman must have excellent horsemanship skills, be knowledgeable of horses, and have experience in racehorse handling and training methods. They also must have excellent communication skills and be knowledgeable about safety in the training and preparation of horses.

Assistant trainer

In most states, assistant trainers are required to be licensed. As an assistant, you manage a set of horses under the trainer’s guidance. The assistant should be able to perform all the functions of the trainer.

At this level, the assistant trainer has developed a sound knowledge of all aspects of the industry and has acquired competencies that enable the performance of all tasks and duties associated with running a racing establishment, including


The final steps to becoming a licensed trainer usually require the person to have letters of recommendation from other trainers and pass a written test showing that they know about horse anatomy, disease, medication, applicable rules and regulations, and training procedures and equipment.

They also have to pass a practical examination to prove their knowledge of horse anatomy, lameness/disease, and horse care.

Below is a YouTube video that discusses how to become a horse trainer.

YouTube video

Top Racehorse Trainers

The All-Time Top-10 Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainers

  1. Charlie Whittingham, Training horses for almost 50 years, exceeded all others. He trained 252 stakes winners. At 75, his horse Sunday Silence won the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders Cup Classic.
  2. Woody Stephens- Trained for almost 70 years, he trained 11 Eclipse Award winners and won over a hundred Grade 1 stakes races. Most remembered for winning five straight Belmont Stakes from 1982-1986
  3. Bobby Frankel—He won the Eclipse Award five times. In 2003, he set the single-season world record for most Grade/Group I victories with 25 Grade I wins, a record that stood until 2017.
  4. Bob Baffert-won three Kentucky Derbies and five Preakness.
  5. D. Wayne Lukas holds the record for most Triple Crowns; he has won twenty Breeder Cup races. 
  6. Allen Jerkens and his horses won more than 200 stakes races.
  7. Laz Barrera– He trained horses for almost fifty years; during that time, he trained six champions and more than 140 American Stakes race winners. He was the leading money-winning trainer from 1977 to 1980.
  8. Bill Mott– Set the record for the number of victories at Churchill Downs. Mott ranks fourth in Breeders’ Cup money earned.
  9. Frank Whiteley Jr.- Trained for almost 50 years with successful Triple Crown runs.
  10. Todd Pletcher– is currently the highest money earner; he has won the Eclipse Award 7 times. He trained two horses to win in the Kentucky Derby. He won the Belmont with Tapwrit. (Check out my article on weird horse names here)

Current Top Quarterhorse Trainers in Horseracing?

The following is a list of the top ten racehorse trainers for the 2018 season, according to American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). Click here for an updated look at the stats)

TrainerAmount Earned
Blane Wood $4,223,385.00
Paul C. Jones $2,128,885.50
James Padgett II- $1,984,161.50
Wesley Todd Giles $1,962,850.00
Clinton R. Crawford $1,731,675.50
Justin W. Joiner $1,694,474.00
Josue Huitron $1,596,939.00
Trey Ellis $1,514,474.00
Jesus J. Carrete $1,514,001.00
Christopher G. O’Dell $1,512,953.50

The 2019 Top Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainers

The following is a list of leading racehorse trainers through May of the 2019 season. Click here to go to Equibase for up-to-date stats.

Trainer2022 Earnings
Chad C. Brown$30,003,114
Todd A. Pletcher$28,351,149
Steven Asmussen$26,784,046
Brad Cox $21,333,819
William Mott $16,066,890
Michael Maker $14,733,204
Mark Casse$13,983,604
Philip D’Amato$10,368,594
Christophe Clement$9,444,653
Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.$9,182,621
Jamie Ness$9,133,098
John W. Sadler$8,527,435

Racehorse Trainers Personality

It’s good to know the personality types you have to deal with before meeting prospective trainers. I have found most racehorse trainers intelligent, reflective, and driven. They tend to be analytical similar to an accountant. They are usually not gregarious individuals, so do not be disappointed if they don’t small talk with you. It’s often a “to the point conversation.”

Racehorse trainers can make good money but also work hard and have a lot of responsibility. I hope this article provides some information that will help you choose your trainer.


What makes a good racehorse trainer?

The best racehorse trainers are able to get the most out of their horses by understanding their individual personalities and training them accordingly. It’s also important for a trainer to spot potential problems early and take corrective action before they become major issues. And finally, a good trainer must have a lot of patience.

Do horse trainers own the horses?

In general, trainers do not own the horses they train. However, it’s not uncommon for a trainer to own a horse they race. For example, if you check a horse racing form, you’ll find a few horses with the same person listed as owner and trainer.